When is it a mortal sin for a Catholic to disagree with authoritative Church teaching?



I was reading an old thread on this site on the topic of whether the Catechism of the Catholic Church is infallible or not. Some posters introduced the idea that even if not all the teaching of the CCC is infallible, it is nonetheless authoritative, and that it is a mortal sin to refuse to accept authoritative teaching.

Can someone provide an official source (e.g. CCC reference, encyclical, ecumenical council, etc) for the notion that rejecting a non-infallible teaching is a mortal sin? Is it always a mortal sin, or only in certain circumstances?



What do you have in mind regarding “non infallible teaching”

My understanding is you must accept all dogma and doctrine. This is presented to us in the Catechism which is sort of a summary collection of church teaching (look at the massive footnotes)

We also must observe the mandated disciplines.

The area we can disagree is in certain devotions (ie the Rosary).

Interested to see other responses too ! :popcorn:


Fr. John Trigilio, ThD , PhD, co-author of Catholicism for Dummies, teaches that the “normal magisterium” of the Church may be considered to be infallible teaching. The faithful are called to grant intellectual assent to the “de fide” teachings, even if they do not currently understand them.

In the words of Saint (and doctor of the Church) Augustine of Hippo, “Understanding is the reward given by belief. Do not try to understand in order to believe, but believe so that you may understand.”


Hi, I think maybe CCC 2032-2037 can apply to the question you’re asking… specifically, I think you’re asking about docility which is required of the faithful according to 2037: “They have the duty of observing the constitutions and decrees conveyed by the legitimate authority of the Church. Even if they concern disciplinary matters, these determinations call for docility in charity.”

I think sometimes that the “sin” isn’t so much in the rejection as much as it’s in the why (motivation) behind the rejection… perhaps look at the reason why someone might not WANT to hear what the church is actually teaching.


I probably should have left the issue of infallibility out of it. The real question is when is it a sin for a Catholic to disagree with a teaching of the Church. Maybe whether the teaching has been taught infallibly (whether that be by the extraordinary magisterium or the ordinary and universal magisterium) enters into the analysis, maybe it doesn’t.

So if you must accept, does it follow that failure to do so is a sin? A mortal sin or a venial sin? Always or under what conditions?



OK, so I was baptised and confirmed Catholic, but largely fell out of it in my teenage years. Even though I went to Catholic schools, for much of my teens I was an atheist, and then I started attending a Protestant church for a few years, but then drifted away from that, and then experimented a bit with Buddhism, and then drifted away from that too. And then I am left with the question, of which religion is right, and then which branch within that religion. And I investigate that question, and suppose I reach the tentative conclusion that Christianity fairs better in this regard than the alternatives. But that still leaves the question of which branch of Christianity is correct? The two answers for which I have the most knowledge and experience are Catholicism and some version of evangelical Protestantism (there are of course other answers, such as Eastern Orthodoxy, but I don’t feel I know that well enough to have much confidence in judging it.) So, which is right, Catholicism or Protestantism? And I begin to study the specific points of difference, and read the arguments - and on some issues, I feel the Catholics have the best argument, and on other issues, I feel the Protestants do.

Anyway, since I was baptised and confirmed Catholic, and thus in the Catholic Church’s view one of its members, however lapsed, if after studying an issue, I reach the honest opinion that on that question Protestants are more right than Catholics, am I therefore sinning according to the Catholic Church for honestly not agreeing with its position?



Honestly Zach,

Something like this would require a point by point examination. For example you couldn’t believe in the Protestant definition of symbolic baptism, but a proper understanding of “faith alone” could fall within Catholic teaching.

I suggest you go to a priest , make an appointment and explain what you just did to us sling with some specifics.


It’s a mortal sin in the eyes of Rome whenever:

  1. You properly understand the Roman teaching, and
  2. Reject it with full knowledge and consent.

Like me on the papal monarchy and creation and Biblical authority, or several of the Evangelical Catholic (LCMS) members of our forums on the Eucharist, Biblical authority, and presbyter ordination, etc.

Of course, those who properly understand and then, with full knowledge and consent, reject the Roman teaching, do not believe the traditions of Rome have the competence to define something as a sin apart from God, and, thus, see the Roman proclamation of the sinfulness of a certain belief as “absolutely null and utterly void”, if that belief is not condemned throughout the length and breadth of the Fathers, and in Scripture itself, which is the ultimate authority, and the only “rule which rules, and is not ruled [by anything else]” (norma normans non normata, literally, “the norm which norms and is not normed”, as opposed to the “ruled rule”, the norma normata, “the norm which is normed”).

I am being unclear. Those who reject the teaching of Rome to the point of mortal sin (with proper understanding and full knowledge and consent of the dogma/ta being rejected), do not believe that the pronouncements of Rome on said dogma/ta or mortal sin are valid or binding apart from the pronouncements of God, and thus judge themselves not in sin by the norm of the Scriptures.

I think I’m still being unclear, but it’s a difficult thing. Using an analogy, Rome telling an Orthodox Catholic or a Protestant, etc. that Papal monarchy and infallibility are infallible dogmata and must be accepted on pain of mortal sin, is like telling an atheist who had an abortion that she’s hell-bound from the Scriptures. The Orthodox or Protestant believes the authority of the pronouncements of Rome are roughly the same as the Atheist believes the divine authority of the Scriptures to be.


It is a matter of opinion, of course. Catholics are going to tell you that only the Catholic Church has the fullness of the Faith. Protestants have many and varied arguments, that Catholicism is apostate, that the Pope is the Antichrist. etc…

Perhaps you could specify what arguments are troubling you?


I speak only personally so if I am in error, I will accept the authority of my elders. As one wise post stated it often depends on why you reject the formal teaching authority of the faithful on a specific issue.
If you don’t accept Humanae Vitae because you want to illicitly limit your family, then you don’t have to search your conscience for long to find the real cause for your dissent. If you think you know better than the Fathers on theology or sacred scripture, you are taking the same road to pride Hans Kung has taken. If after looking at your personal conscience and truly believe that disobedience to a teaching is not a sin then in the formal definition of serious sin it is not mortal. But you have to have an informed conscience. Thus research, spiritual advice and an intellectual and emotional humility is essential for this level of discernment.


I think a little common sense is applicable here too. One cannot be Catholic and not realize that they commit mortal sin by denying recognized church teachings, such as those on abortion, gay marriage or the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, to name only 3. (Which is why I wonder about some of our elected Catholic politicians.) Certainly, Catholics aren’t bound to believe in any particular devotion or writing–such as “The Mystical City of God” or even “Divine Mercy in My Soul”–even though purportedly written by saints. I, personally, don’t care for either book–someone else may love both and either of our opinions is just fine from the viewpoint of the church. Moreover, if a bishop speaks on an issue that hasn’t been formally recognized as a truth by the church, we don’t have to buy into that either–though truthfully, I can’t come up with a particular example of this happening, as most bishops are exceedingly cautious in this area. The closest example I could even think of, is if a bishop took a formal position on whether a Catholic should or should not vote for a specific political candidate–that would be his opinion only–and again, at least in the USA, I don’t think that happens–if so, I’m unaware of it and I use this example only hypothetically.

The pope himself is only infallible when he specifically ASSERTS to speaking with this authority. Another words, Pope Francis is exceedingly devoted to “Our Lady, Un-doer of Knots”–a devotion I share and love too. BUT, if Pope Francis said in an interview: “This is a lovely devotion and all Catholics should honor Mary in this way.”–that is his opinion and Catholics can take his advice or not–as they feel called. It certainly doesn’t become church doctrine. BUT, if as a matter of divine revelation–or in the course of a Counsel of bishops or such, the Pope were to say “It has been revealed that we are to honor Mary specifically by as “Mary, Un-doer of Knots”–and in this specific way…”, then as Catholics, I at least would feel bound to obey. I believe it fair to say that when the pope and church speak with infallibility, it is never left open to question what is being said or if it is to be considered authentic church doctrine, The church makes it plain to us. Moreover, the church works slowly–it doesn’t usually just jump into a change in teaching or the acceptance of a teaching as doctrine–which is just one more thing that I deeply love about the Catholic church. It is a patient mother who waits on God’s ultimate revelation before taking final stands–which to come full circle, is why when the church takes a stand–such as it’s opposition to female priests or abortion–it isn’t going to change it’s stand. God has revealed it as a correct stand to His church. Anyway, this is how I explained it to a non-Catholic friend of mine–and he said it helped him understand. Many non-Catholics have the misconception (which is perpetuated in many non-Catholic churches) that if the pope were to wake up on Thursday and mistakenly think it was Friday and say so out loud, that Catholics are bound to believe that the order of the week has just been changed–which of course is untrue and silly!:thumbsup:


Correct, but not everything in the Catechism is de fide.

The classical example that is always discussed, is the statement in the English version of the Catechism that there is no justification for Capital Punishment in the Western world.

This is an opinion, on a matter of prudential judgement. It is not dogma, doctrine, nor a teaching of the ordinary magisterium. To be part of the ordinary magisterium, a teaching much have been taught always and everywhere by orthodox Bishops.

So, everything in the Catechism that is de fide must be believed upon pain of sin. But, simply being in the Catechism doesn’t make something de fide.

God Bless


**It is not a sin to doubt **the teachings of the Church.

As long as we do not reject what we know to be good and true (voluntary doubt) we do not sin. But we may have difficulties accepting those teachings (involuntary doubt) which is okay.

This article explains it well: catholic.com/quickquestions/what-is-the-difference-between-obstinate-doubt-and-ordinary-doubt

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated, doubt can lead to spiritual blindness. (CCC 2088)


Involuntary doubt is not, in itself, sinful and may be experienced by any sincere believer. Voluntary doubt, on the other hand, as a willful refusal to assent to God’s revelation, is a grave issue.


I have not followed the whole thread here…and so am not here “answering” the question…but just a wee note that the Catechism does not per se say that there is “no justification” of CP in the western world…not in the actual text. Though persons could argue that an application of the text could lead to such a conclusion. But that would be an argument -not the text itself.

For clarity it says:

2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically nonexistent."68


But yes the application does involve prudential judgment.

But yes there are different “kinds” of Teaching which call for different “kinds” of assent.


ZackMartin #6
since I was baptised and confirmed Catholic….if after studying an issue, I reach the honest opinion that on that question Protestants are more right than Catholics, am I therefore sinning according to the Catholic Church for honestly not agreeing with its position?

From your problems on another thread, you need to discover the basis of why Jesus Christ founded His Church – the Catholic Church. He founded no other denomination, and you cannot be a real Catholic until you know His teaching and assent to it.

The Apostolic Constitution by which Bl John Paul II issued the CCC states that it is “a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine…”

From the CCC:
1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.
1791 This ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man "takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin."59 In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.
**1792 **Ignorance of Christ and his Gospel, bad example given by others, enslavement to one’s passions, assertion of a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience, rejection of the Church’s authority and her teaching, lack of conversion and of charity: these can be at the source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.
1793 If - on the contrary - the ignorance is invincible, or the moral subject is not responsible for his erroneous judgment, the evil committed by the person cannot be imputed to him. It remains no less an evil, a privation, a disorder. One must therefore work to correct the errors of moral conscience.
1794 A good and pure conscience is enlightened by true faith, for charity proceeds at the same time "from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith."60
The more a correct conscience prevails, the more do persons and groups turn aside from blind choice and try to be guided by objective standards of moral conduct.61


I think before I would be able to give a blanket opinion on the question, I’d want to know which explicit teaching or opinion that the person was considering a protestant vs Catholic teaching of and found himself more able to accept the protestant teaching than the catholic one on. That entire concept bothers me somehow–but without knowing exactly what he’s talking about it’s hard to give a concrete answer. Normally, I’d say that Catholics must believe Catholic teaching or they aren’t really Catholics. But not everything that is sometimes considered to be “Catholic teaching” always is–or is always set in absolute stone. Conscience too is ALWAYS paramount–but is there a misunderstanding in what the person believes the teaching to be? Is it a true teaching–or simply a tradition? I just don’t know…:shrug:


It’s obvious. If a catholic does not follow his/her well informed conscience then that person does not follow Church’s teaching.


So, since you don’t “like” what the Catholic Church teaches on some issue you go find a church that teaches what you like… sounds familiar to me, lots of people do that… but on the day of judgement, you’re really going to risk your eternal soul that you “knew better” than the Catholic church?

On whatever issue you don’t understand/agree with, my bet is that you haven’t really put in the time and effort to understand Why the church teaches what she teaches. So yes, sounds like a serious sin… you might take a look at the seven deadly sins, perhaps sloth or pride or vanity???

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